Villanelle in a Minor Key by Pauletta Hansel
My father’s favorite songs were in a minor key—
Shady Grove pining by the midnight door,
feet bare on the splintered floor.
At night I’d see my father’s cigarette
smoldering to ash beside his stacks of books,
the stereo humming the monks’ low chants in a minor key.
He’d been a child no one thought to love.
His people felt it plenty just to take him in,
toughen him up for the coalmine’s splintered floor.
Still, my parents packed us up with gifts and lunch
to wind the hairpin curves, the same day back again.
Beneath his breath my father sang in a minor key,
Shady Grove’s stockings wound round blue-veined arms,
thin as his mother’s that had cradled her boy
before she was laid on the coffin’s splintered floor.
My father lived for books and music, and for us.
He never saw the point in the family tree.
My father’s favorite songs were in a minor key;
his past was a splintered floor.
Pauletta Hansel is author of seven poetry collections, including
Palindrome (Dos Madres Press), winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for best Appalachian poetry book, and Coal Town Photograph (Dos Madres Press 2019). Pauletta was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate from April 2016 through March 2018 and leads writing workshops and retreats in the Greater Cincinnati area and beyond. She is co-editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative.